An In-Depth Conversation With Coinbase Engineer Josh Ellithorpe
There’s been a lot going on within the crypto-ecosystem and this week news.Bitcoin.com chatted with Josh Ellithorpe, Senior Software Engineer at Coinbase. Ellithorpe explains to our readers how he got into bitcoin and about when he eventually joined the San Francisco-based cryptocurrency firm about a year and a half ago. The software developer is also a Bitcoin Cash (BCH) supporter and we discuss some of the reasons to why he likes the BCH environment. Ellithorpe chatted further with us about some of the hot topics concerning the BCH protocol, a few weeks before the proposed upgrade scheduled for this November.
Cryptocurrencies Offer an Even Playing Field That’s More Appealing Than the Current Monetary System
News.Bitcoin.com (BC): Can you tell our readers how you got into cryptocurrencies?
Josh Ellithorpe (JE): I actually got into cryptocurrencies really early. I remember looking at the original Bitcoin white paper back in 2009 and I was really intrigued by it and looked at the software. I didn’t really get into the ecosystem at that point as I was just intellectually curious. The idea that we could have some form of digital money that couldn’t be copied was very revolutionary to someone like me, who has been in the computer science space for a really long time. So I didn’t know if anything would happen with Bitcoin when I researched it for the first time and I wasn’t like; “This is going to be the next big thing” right away. Then I just got busy and started doing some other work and rotated back into the cryptocurrency space around 2012 and started looking at crypto more seriously.
Then I started reading more about it and saw all this cool stuff going on and said to myself, man this is really going to change things. What excited me about Bitcoin was the monetary theory behind it and I didn’t like the idea that governments can just print money. I didn’t like the way the money funnel worked. The money funnel was — the Federal Reserve loans money to organizations and they promise to pay it back but it allows the government to spend more than they actually have. It allowed for a debt system that I thought really caused harm to the average person. Fiat currencies that are not backed by anything and really have a shelf life — the US dollar has been very lucky that it hasn’t yet had the same problems that pretty much every other fiat currency faces. That’s mainly because of our government, the military enforcement, the petro-dollar and a bunch of other economic factors that are not guaranteed to last.
Cryptocurrencies offered an even playing field which was more appealing than the current monetary system. But at the time, because the ecosystem was so volatile, I didn’t want to join the industry.
BC: Can you tell us why you decided to join the San Francisco firm Coinbase?
JE: In 2012 you didn’t know if a cryptocurrency exchange would be shut down or not. So I started working at a couple of other startups here in San Francisco and spent a long time working on things like container infrastructure — Deployments for big companies doing infrastructure automation and I did that for a few years. But I kept loving crypto, kept using it, and I always had bitcoin on my phone. I always wanted it for utility and never really cared about it as an investment angle — Although I don’t mind it going up in value either, making money was never my motivation.
I actually went to Coinbase to sell them on the infrastructure I had built. I knew that Qualcomm was using some of the stuff I built and Ericcson was using some of the stuff that I built — So I said. man wouldn’t it be cool if Coinbase ran my infrastructure. So I went and met the team’s infrastructure guy and his name is Rob and he’s now at Google. We chatted for a long time and we showed each other the things we had built because I didn’t realize how custom everything was at Coinbase. I showed him all the stuff I had built and he said that’s really cool but I want to show you all the stuff we built, because we actually have an amazing infrastructure team. So I went and he showed me all of the infrastructure and showed me all the cool tools that Coinbase had built to automate deploys, and a bunch of stuff they had done for the AWS infrastructure. I looked at it and said — you guys have a lot of really awesome custom stuff, I have a more general purpose solution for enterprises and to be honest you don’t need what I have, because you’ve actually done it right and have a really cool set of tools.
Because I didn’t try to sell him on my stuff we became good friends. We went to Defcon together, we hung out for a while and he kept trying to get me to go to Coinbase. So at this time, I felt the space had matured and Coinbase had a good reputation with regulators from Europe and the US. I applied at Coinbase when I decided to leave Apcera and they offered me the gig, and that was about a year and a half ago.
BC: You are vocal Bitcoin Cash supporter and have recently been interviewed by Ryan X Charles and last May spoke at the Satoshi Vision conference in Tokyo. What do you like about Bitcoin Cash?
JE: The thing I like about Bitcoin Cash is the utility, that’s what brought me into Bitcoin. So I never cared about it going to the moon or if I was going to get a Lambo. That was never what inspired me. My motivation was fair and sound money for the people with no middleman — That’s what I wanted.
I got really disappointed with the roadmap for BTC — And I just disagreed. I wish them the best of luck with the Lightning Network but to me, that’s not Bitcoin. To me, Bitcoin was something that was going to scale on-chain. That would have higher resource requirements that would eventually go from the user-sphere to the business and data center-sphere and I was ok with that right from the beginning. That’s how I thought Bitcoin scaled from a ton of businesses building awesome products and having a business model that generated revenue and the whole world competing for mining.
Then people started saying things that didn’t make sense to me. Like home-users will always need to run bitcoind and that raspberry pi node matters. I do agree that some people want to validate their own transactions and ideally, it would be nice if prosumers and higher end tech users still could run a node, I think that would be cool but not necessary. As long as there are enough validating nodes dispersed amongst enough businesses, and enough locations, then I’m fine with that.
If the network is lying to you already, the experiment has failed.
When I start seeing companies getting demonized that was also another red flag. Like Bitpay has done a huge amount of groundwork for the space. They make it simple for people to easily take crypto and decide on how much of that crypto they want to hold and they get to split the price at point-of-sale. Those are very important features for a cryptocurrency to actually gain traction. To me, I saw the BTC community become extremely toxic, extremely anti-business, and to me anti-scale.
BC: There’s been a lot of BCH development lately, is there any specific projects that you look forward to?
JE: Honestly, there’s a token explosion. So many proposals, and I haven’t tried them all yet but I’ve looked into most of them. I’ve definitely looked into the Wormhole stuff, which is really cool, but I haven’t really used it to a huge extent. Then the Recursive Smelting proposal that looks pretty neat too. You have SLP which is SPV friendly and it already has a built-in wallet and Jonald and team did great work there. And I know he worked with Unwriter on that and leveraging Bitdb is really cool. Then there’s the Group proposal that’s one of the more heavyweight protocol changes out of any of the token proposals so far. But it is a well-crafted proposal but I don’t know if we should necessarily make changes at the base protocol.
BC: How do you feel about the current debate between Bitcoin ABC and Nchain over consensus changes?
JE: I think its ok that people disagree, but it’s how people disagree. I’m very disappointed with how some people are disagreeing.
I think there are constructive ways to talk about differences and non-constructive ways. Attacks on Twitter are really inexcusable behavior and this — let’s debate this on Twitter — is bullshit.
BC: Do you think that it will all work out?
JE: Here’s a couple of facts. Bitcoin SV doesn’t exist — Does not exist. If people think that hash power is going to run and grab a full node client that has been on the market for less than a month that no one’s ever run then they don’t understand economics. Miners are not going to take a chance and run brand new software the day it comes out. To me, that makes no sense from a miners perspective. I understand points on both sides and I’m actually not a fan of any camp’s full proposal — So it makes it difficult for me.
BC: How do you feel about Bitcoin Unlimited’s approach?
JE: So I think that is a very smart approach and ultimately hash power is going to decide on the way it goes. No one’s talking replay protection so hash power and the market are going to decide.
What do you think about our discussion with Josh Ellithorpe? Let us know what you think about this interview in the comment section below.
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